Classic Rock Review

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Lou Reed Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal (1974)


Isn’t it ironic that Lou Reed’s best-selling album was a live one? And not just a live one – an album packed to the brink with live versions of old VU standarts. Apparently, this was the public’s muffled expression of what it really felt about Lou disbanding VU. Of course, it’s soothing to see that Lou wasn’t going to discard his past and saw no problem in taking his VU legacy on board. But the funny thing is, this doesn’t sound like the VU at all! Oh, how the clever nostalgic public was probably disappointed (and how the not so clever contemporary public was probably filled with awe).

Instead, Lou goes for a gimmicky, loud and dazzling sound – most of the entertainment is provided by constant guitar duels courtesy of hired-guns Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. It isn’t even mentioned in the liner notes if Lou plays guitar himself – I highly doubt it, seeing as he rarely played anything on his previous solo records. And on both the front and back covers he is pictured as a show-off-ey, highly maked up, well, ‘rock’n’roll animal’. This is definitely a glam show, and a glam rock record – the guitar sound is heavy but not thoroughly sincere, and from the very ‘Intro’ where Hunter and Wagner enter the stage playing dazzling (and highly professional) guitar licks off each other, you’re in for a true show – the songs take on an almost ‘monumental’ feel, most of them being sped up, cranked up, puffed up and blown up. Yeah, that’s right. All of this is just spectacle, of course, but, as with the best examples of glam rock, it’s high-quality and extremely entertaining spectacle.

A metallized, arena-rock-adjusted version of ‘Lady Day’ is the only Lou Reed solo tune that made it to the album (more of his solo numbers cropped up on the later Lou Reed Live, though), and it’s easy to see why: the general mood of the ‘brilliant show’ is in no way compatible with the quiet, stripped-down, modest moods on his solo records. ‘Lady Day’ is, in fact, the worst cut on the album, especially if compared with the far superior studio version on Berlin. On the other hand, the VU tunes have suddenly proved to be much more adaptable – the two short and the two long numbers on here rock mercilessly and are thoroughly enjoyable even in their lengthiness.

Of the short numbers, the speedy, raving, punkish version of ‘White Light/White Heat’ is the best, with enough kick-butt energy to equal and probably surpass the studio version – I mean, instead of the Velvets’ intentionally sloppy, dirty approach, you witness a tightened up, crunchy rocker, with an almost AC/DC-like riff holding up the song; but ‘Sweet Jane’ is quite decent as well, once you’ve gotten past the lengthy intro featuring the guitarists’ talents. The main emphasis, however, is placed on the two lengthy cuts – ‘Heroin’ and ‘Rock’n’Roll’. While I can’t admit to liking this version of the latter too much, and the repetitive jam at the end gets way, way too long, I certainly lift my thumbs up in favour of ‘Heroin’ – the version here is much more thought out, inspired and professional than the sloppy original.

The multiple sections of the song are quite diverse, the famous speeding up on the refrain is exercised in a series of different ways, and the song’s twelve-minute length is almost perfectly justified in that you never know what is going to happen next. Crisp, hard-hitting guitar parties abound, the occasional organ solo (Ray Colcord is on keyboards) is cute, and Lou’s vocals are sharp and distinctive as well. If anything, the song receives a real ‘rock-out’ treatment – a thing that was sorely lacking on the original; I know VU purists might crucify me for this statement, but unless you’re a VU purist (and most VU purists I’ve had the chance of meeting on the Web were absolute freaks, so I’m not speaking on their behalf), you’re bound to agree with me.

As for ‘Rock’n’Roll’, it kicks just as much ass as everything else on here; I’m not too sure if there was any real point in extending the song so drastically – Hunter’s repetitive wah-wah riff, for instance,
simply has no reason to stick in your ears for so long without any other instruments backing it – but on the whole, it forms a dazzling and highly suitable ending to the show that’s supposed to highlight Mr Reed as the Rocker to outrock everybody else. Who could have thought that this highly commercial, so straightforwardly crowd-pleasing record would be followed by Metal Machine Music just a few years later?

So, even if the album is by no means essential, it’s probably a must for all Lou Reed studiosos – turns out that the man’s live edge and studio edge around 1973-74 were two different things. And if you’re dissatisfied with Reed’s German-style ditties or pretentious conceptual musings, this is the album to own – flashy and kick-ass. Rock’n’roll, dude, rock’n’roll to the core. Plus, the production is near-excellent (funnily, it might even be better than on his contemporary studio records), and the coolest thing – which often goes unnoticed – is that Lou never even says a ‘thank you’ to the audience. Snubby son of a bitch, ain’t he?

December 22, 2013 Posted by | Lou Reed Rock 'N' Roll Animal | | Leave a comment